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The Tweets of August: Trump’s North Korea Calculus Underestimates China

State-run paper says China will ‘prevent’ U.S. from ‘changing the political pattern of the Korean peninsula’

Donald J. Trump has spent this week making our mounting crisis with Pyongyang worse. Having repeatedly staked his prestige and credibility – and that of the United States – on preventing North Korea from becoming a full-fledged atomic power, he’s now backed us all into a corner from which there may be no peaceful exit.

For months, Trump has tweeted angrily at the North Korean regime, promising back in January before his inauguration that he would not permit Pyongyang to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the United States. “It won’t happen,” the president-elect boasted on Twitter.

Yet just eight months later that ominous moment may be upon us. According to the new secret  assessment of the Defense Intelligence Agency, North Korea is now able to develop an atomic warhead small enough to fit on top of a ballistic missile. While DIA’s analysis is hardly foolproof – missteps over Iraq’s WMD in 2002 left a lasting stain on that agency’s reputation –its assessment here is broadly supported by the rest of our Intelligence Community and deserves to be taken seriously.

In response, from his “working vacation” at his New Jersey golf course, Trump publicly threatened Pyongyang “with fire and the fury like the world has never seen” if that regime continues to taunt the United States with missiles. Notwithstanding that Trump’s belligerent talk – which, it turned out, was stated off-the-cuff, without any coordination with national security officials – was a transparent reference to hitting North Korea with nuclear weapons, the president’s “red line” had no positive effect on Pyongyang.

On the contrary, it took North Korea mere hours to cross Trump’s hollow “red line,” denouncing the president’s warning as a “load of nonsense.” In a fire-breathing statement, the head of Pyongyang’s strategic missile force announced that his country will launch four missiles towards the U.S. island of Guam in the western Pacific sometime later in August, adding a memorable put-down of our commander-in-chief: “Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason who is going senile.” For added effect, Pyongyang mocked Trump for spending so much time on the golf course.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Can the US Rely on its North Korea Intelligence?

The story of the week is the rising nuclear confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang over North Korea’s advancing nuclear missile program. Yesterday I did an interview with PRI World on the quality of our intelligence on North Korea’s nukes — including discussion of espionage sources and methods, the difficulties of spying on a hard target Pyongyang, and how is this situation different than our Iraq WMD debacle. If you’ve got a few minutes, listen in right here. Enjoy!

The Kremlin-White House Lie Machine Spins Out of Control

Moving on from DNC staffer Seth Rich, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is the next victim

In my last column, I explained how the Trump administration is trying to distract the public from increasingly serious investigations of the president’s ties with Moscow by disseminating lies – particularly about Seth Rich, the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer. According to the White House, with help from its media allies such as Fox News, Rich – not Russian spies – was the “real” source of Hillary Clinton’s emails which were leaked last summer.

That none of this is true hasn’t stopped this narrative from gaining traction among Trump supporters. The president himself allegedly had a hand in crafting the noxious lies about Seth Rich which were broadcast by Sean Hannity, a friend of Trump’s, on Fox News back in May – only to be quickly recanted by the network for their transparent falsehood.

However, close examination of the Seth Rich Active Measure (to use the proper espionage term) reveals Russia’s deep involvement in this White House-backed fabrication. This sordid saga commenced on July 16 of last year, less than a week after Seth Rich was murdered by an unknown gunman late at night on the streets of our nation’s capital.

Just six days after the killing of the 27-year-old DNC staffer, a remarkable story appeared on a shadowy conspiracy website called Sorcha Faal, which regularly posts flagrant lies from a Russian viewpoint. Among its other 2016 “scoops,” Sorcha Faal spread the story that two U.S. Marine helicopters had been shot down by Turkey, killing 12 Americans – which never happened, yet which got picked up by Russia’s mainstream media.

Its coverage of the Rich murder was even more inventive. According to Sorcha Faal, the young man had been assassinated by a Clintonian “hit team” – which a few days later was captured “after a running gun battle with U.S. federal police forces just blocks from the White House.” In this sensational telling, Rich was lured to his death by Hillary’s assassins, who posed as FBI agents to gain the DNC employee’s trust. As the source of the stolen emails, Rich had to be liquidated to protect the Democratic presidential nominee and her family – which, Sorcha Faal reported, has been behind numerous murders.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Trump White House Colludes With Fox News to Embrace Disinformation

The Trump administration has started employing Chekist-style tactics to protect itself from KremlinGate

We’re officially losing the propaganda war with Russia. This isn’t entirely news. Two years ago, I explained how the Obama administration, facing a deluge of Kremlin lies aimed at the West, refused to fight back. This shirking of battle in the propaganda war which Vladimir Putin is waging against America and our allies may be the most consequential what-if of our 2016 election.

Hillary Clinton’s backers have pointed questions about why a Democratic administration proved so timid about resisting the Kremlin’s weaponized lie machine – as well they should. Recently, more troubling questions have emerged about why the Trump White House is even more derelict than its predecessor about this important national security matter.

In response to Russian clandestine interference in our 2016 election – a spy campaign in which disinformation and Active Measures, to use proper Chekist terminology, played a pivotal role in harming the Democrats and helping Donald Trump – late last year Congress passed and the Obama White House signed a bill giving the State Department $80 million to resist Russian lies aimed at the West.

This, therefore, was the law of the land when President Trump took his oath of office a few weeks later but, as I recently explained, in the more than half a year since, absolutely nothing has been done to follow the law. The State Department has hired nobody, it has created no new programs or organizations, while not spending a dollar of the $80 million Congress gave it for this new and important mission. All this while our Western allies actually are doing something in the fight against the Kremlin’s lie machine.

Despite repeated inquiries from Congress, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his department have refused to take action and follow the law. Why this is happening has been answered by a new piece in Politico which explains that the reason is more sinister than bureaucratic inertia or lethargy at Foggy Bottom. Some had wondered if this failure was caused by the unprecedented State Department chaos which Tillerson has engendered, which includes not filling key jobs, disregarding advice from in-house experts, and seeming to despise his own department, which he apparently wants to all but disband, on White House orders.

Read the rest at The Observer …

We Are Now in Cold War 2.0

Putin has given up on the White House — and that’s terrible news for Trump

Nothing was more clear-cut during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign than his fervent desire to have a fresh start in relations with Russia. Time and again through 2016, the Republican candidate effusively asked why America couldn’t “get along” with Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin.

Such simplistic statements, implying that relations between two nuclear powers and rivals are based on a personal friendship between leaders, made American foreign policy mavens wince across the political spectrum. Trump was content to ignore the wide range of issues where Washington and Moscow are at odds – above all, Putin’s war on Ukraine and his saber-rattling in Eastern Europe.

I was one of the wincers at Trump’s shocking naivete about the Russians, not least because I pronounced that we were in Cold War 2.0 with the Kremlin after Putin’s annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014, whether we wanted to be or not. The Republican nominee’s desire to placate Moscow regardless of Russian conduct did not bode well for the Trump presidency and its foreign policy.

As it turned out, I was an optimist. In the half-year since Donald Trump became our 45th president, his policies toward Putin have proven an obsequious hash. Still unable to admit the consensus of our Intelligence Community that Moscow interfered in our 2016 election – his election – Trump has kowtowed to the Kremlin strongman, including in public, to no effect except making his White House appear ridiculous.

Trump’s obvious desire to appease Moscow by returning their two spy centers in New York and Maryland that were shuttered by President Obama in December in retaliation for Kremlin meddling in our election became an embarrassment among Republicans. Considering that those “dachas” functioned for decades as covert signals intelligence sites – the latter, located on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, was a particularly important SIGINT base for Moscow — that Trump wanted to hand them back to Russian intelligence raised awkward questions in Washington. Therefore, the idea died, much to Kremlin chagrin.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Trumpocalypse: A Nightmare From Which There’s No Normal Exit

The attempted purging of Jeff Sessions indicates that Trump meant nothing he said about American sovereignty and well-being

Ever since inauguration day just over six months ago. the Trump White House has been beleaguered by allegations of nefarious – and possibly illegal – ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign. For half a year now, those allegations have gradually grown more specific and more serious, while Team Trump’s inept handling of these weighty accusations has only rendered them politically more cancerous.

Months of denials from the president and his retinue that they had any ties with Moscow were unwise, since we now know of numerous hush-hush meetings in 2016 between core members of Team Trump and Kremlin representatives. Hence present White House efforts to brush off these mysterious rendezvous with protests that it’s all no big deal and “everybody does it” ring hollow – since for months the president and his spokespeople repeatedly denied there had been any such meetings.

The recent appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director indicates where this scandal is headed. A hedge-funder billionaire and media gadfly, Scaramucci has traits which the president admires, above all his well-honed willingness to lie baldly and loudly – if not always convincingly – on camera.

Trump was dissatisfied with Sean Spicer, his initial spokesman, from day one. While Spicer was willing to lie for the president, his efforts sometimes seemed half-hearted, TV comedy depictions to the contrary. A veteran Republican National Committee staffer, Spicer is a rather normal Washington type and he clearly was never fully at home in the Trump lie factory. Hence his gradual replacement at press briefings by the more ethically malleable Sarah Huckabee Sanders, followed by his recent departure when Scaramucci was appointed to shake up White House messaging.

Based on his initial forays as Trump’s media guru – complete with anticipated bluster about shaking things up and firing leakers – Scaramucci seems to be functioning more as de facto White House chief of staff than the president’s communications director. That said, “The Mooch” is ideally suited to a job which will require ever grander public deceptions of mounting implausibility as multiple investigations into President Trump’s 2016 relations with the Kremlin start to bear fruit.

Read the rest at The Observer …

We Now Have Proof of Trump’s Collusion With the Kremlin

As Winston Churchill famously said, this is the end of the beginning

After months of speculation about the relationship between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, hard evidence has at last emerged which is deeply damaging to the White House. This represents a turning point in the ever-more-complex saga of what I’ve termed KremlinGate, and how the Trump White House handles the revelation will determine its future—if it even has one.

This comes on the heels of the president’s sidebar one-on-one meeting with his Russian counterpart last weekend at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Despite the fact that—as I recently noted—a meeting with the Kremlin leader (when the U.S. Intelligence Community says his spy services helped elect Trump last year) would seem to be the very last thing any sensible administration would want, Trump went ahead with it.

The meeting itself was awkwardly long, and afterwards neither side could agree on what was said. At a minimum, Trump allowed Putin to appear as his equal (and perhaps more, to examine the body language on display) and proceeded to go along with the Kremlin line that Russian intelligence played no nefarious role in keeping Hillary Clinton from the White House. That is dismissed as blatant deception by our spy agencies, yet appears to be accepted by Trump and his minions, extensive intelligence evidence to the contrary.

To make matters worse, once he was home, Trump fired off numerous combative tweets about his relationship with Putin, including the stunning idea that he and the Kremlin boss had discussed setting up a joint cybersecurity unit with Moscow to ensure the integrity of future elections. This, simply put, was the most shocking policy suggestion uttered by any American president in my lifetime—and quite possibly ever.

To get this straight: Trump wanted to share American cyber-secrets with the country whose spy services illegally and clandestinely helped put him in the White House, and which continue to cyber-pillage our government and economy right now, in real time.

Read the rest at The Observer …